Iraq

US Marines evacuating wounded comrades, Kut al-Amara, 3 April 2003. (Gilles Bassignac/Gamma-Rapho, Paris)

Two imperial ventures, in the same Middle East town a century apart, reveal the similarities – and differences – in the exercise of power.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Great Powers competed for the right to extract the vast oil reserves around the Iraqi city of Mosul. The motivation – and prize – was energy security. 

Roger Hudson details the defining role played by oil in the predominantly Kurdish-populated city of Kirkuk in Iraq.

Justin Marozzi admires Hugh Kennedy’s article from 2004, which offers a nuanced portrait of the great Abbasid caliph, Harun al Rashid, much-mythologised hero of The Arabian Nights

Cyril Falls profiles perhaps the ideal soldier in war and, certainly, the ideal British Commander-in-Chief.

Possibly some innate realism prevented the Mesopotamians from seeing death other than objectively. But the Epic of Gilgamesh remains an eloquent witness to the poignancy of their interrogation of the meaning of human life and destiny. S.G.F. Brandon.

Britain’s involvement in the Middle East between the wars proved a rich seam for authors of adventure stories which, in turn, helped to reinforce the imperial mission.

The chain of events that led to the rule of Saddam Hussein began with the murder on July 14th, 1958 of the 23-year-old King Faisal. Antony Hornyold was a junior diplomat at the British embassy in Baghdad at the time.

Hulagu's army conducting a siege on Baghdad walls. Tapestry circa 1430.

The Siege of Baghdad ended on February 10th 1258.

Clive Foss introduces the Kharijites, a radical sect from the first century of Islam based in southern Iraq and Iran, who adopted an extreme interpretation of the Koran, ruthless tactics and opposed hereditary political leadership. After causing centuries of problems to the caliphate, they survive in a quietist form in East Africa and Oman.